Home furnishings is a category where brick-and-mortar retailers still have a competitive edge, as many consumers still want to see and feel their furniture before opening their wallets. However, that competitive edge is only viable if said consumers are aware of the local home furnishings showroom, and for today’s consumer, that discovery process starts online.
While we know that retail success today incorporates showing up online in some way, the jump to e-commerce has remained on the back burner for many retailers who lack the skill set, money, or time to invest in a digital platform and upkeep.
Enter Design Kollective. This relatively new online platform — the brainchild of Founder and CEO Lynsey Humphrey, who comes into the industry naturally, as her family owns home furnishings brand Alder & Tweed — offers a plug-and-play e-commerce option to a retailer’s current website or can provide a web presence for a retailer that doesn’t yet have one.
Humphrey began her home furnishings career as a retailer, she says, and understands the frustrations today’s brick-and-mortars face with larger online competitors.
In response to those frustrations, Humphrey set about developing Design Kollective as an opportunity to help independent retailers continue to do what they do best. “Consumers are best served in their local communities,” she says. “The brick-and-mortar retailers are the backbone of the industry and need to be represented in an easy and seamless manner.”
So what is Design Kollective and how does it help? The digital platform is an online resource and marketplace for brick-and-mortar furniture stores, says Humphrey. “We provide the tools for our members to effectively compete online with the large furniture ‘e-tailers.’ We help our brick-and-mortar furniture stores easily get online and stay online.”
Through a universal format that Design Kollective provides, it allows retailers to add a shop button to an existing web platform, even if that website isn’t structured for e-commerce. For those retailers without any online presence, the Design Kollective program creates that website for them through the larger site. The program functions as easily as “setting up a Facebook page,” says Chad Smith, Director of Sales & Marketing at Design Kollective. No programmers are needed to set up the site or maintain it, as drag-and-drop functionality allows retailers to add items, or with a spreadsheet of available products, Design Kollective will upload products and maintain the site for its retail partners.
While the main goal of the platform is to give brick-and-mortar retailers an e-commerce presence online, with a primary goal of driving consumer traffic into showrooms, Design Kollective makes it easier for retailers to conduct transactions online as well, offering consumers the opportunity of ordering online and handling all back-end operations for retailers, including shipping. Not only does this add convenience, it also has the potential to expand a retailer’s customer base.
“The consumer is researching everything online first,” says Humphrey. “For retailers, it’s about being able to show the product they carry. We want consumers to go into the stores. However, if anything sells off the online platform, we coordinate the logistics.”
From its inception three years ago, and after a lengthy beta test process with about 50 retailers to ensure Design Kollective is providing all of the necessary tools, upwards of 200 home furnishings retailers have signed on and membership is growing rapidly. In addition, the platform showcases products from hundreds of home furnishings vendors, as retailers showcase their inventory online. To have access to the services, retailers pay a nominal monthly fee, akin to hosting their own sites, and everything is provided to create a seamless e-commerce presence that encompasses sales, marketing, customer care, shipping and community.
Jamie Bernal, owner of Jonathons Coastal Living, a design studio and home furnishings retailer, says, “With all of the responsibilities I’m carrying, I knew I needed to be selling online, but I just couldn’t possibly extend myself any further to even think of launching an e-commerce site of my own.”
Jonathons Coastal Living had an informational online site that allowed its customers to see what was in the showroom. However, through Design Kollective, Bernal has been able to expand to a full-service e-commerce site, immediately allowing the company to make online sales and expand its online retail presence. “It is crucial that we offer our goods for sale online,” says Bernal. “Our Design Kollective platform is not necessarily an extremely important revenue source for us right now; however, I believe it solidifies our presence as a retailer.”
“Retailers have to figure out a way to monetize the Internet,” says Smith. Adds Humphrey, “Consumers don’t want to see their Main Street go away because they love shopping brick-and-mortar.” However, consumers have changed the way they begin that shopping experience, and Design Kollective is working to ensure that “Main Street” is online where consumers can see them before they decide to purchase sight unseen from a larger e-tailer.